Monday, May 30, 2011

Keep the Change by Steve Dublanica

There's a big difference between a writer and someone who's written a book. A writer is someone who can replicate that experience -- maybe not at will, maybe not without pain and effort and even failure along the way -- but no one is really "a writer" after only publishing one thing.

Steve Dublanica became a bestseller with his book Waiter Rant, which grew out of his experiences serving food at a ritzy restaurant in my stomping grounds -- the western New York suburbs -- and out of his pseudonymous blog of the same name. With Keep the Change, though, Dublanica moves from being a guy who wrote a book to be a writer, someone who can get out there, do his research, and put it all together in a form that people will want to read.

The book marketing manager in me admires the way Dublanica is extending his brand: Waiter Rant was purely about waiters, and attracted interest for its behind-the-scenes look at their world, but Keep the Change covers all kinds of services and the people that do them. Even more importantly, it covers all of those areas from a general consumer viewpoint: its central question is "Who are you supposed to tip, and how much?" And that's something we all sometimes wonder about, or get apprehensive about, particularly when there's someone who seems to have his hand out.

Keep the Change is one part consumer guide and one part the story of Dublanica's explorations of the various places people get tipped -- each chapter covers one venue, from restaurants to hotels to garages, brothels, strip clubs, tattoo parlors, and barber shops. That first mission of Keep the Change -- to detail how much various people should be tipped for performing whatever services they're performing -- could have been a chart, or at most a medium-sized magazine article. And the second part isn't overly exciting, either -- Dublanica is a pleasant writer, but not a terribly deep one, and his quick dealings with the service providers in all of these areas come off as mostly superficial.

But Keep the Change is more entertaining than just summing up its parts would make it seem; tipping is deeply rooted in American culture, and Dublanica's journey to find out how to do it right -- even if he does gussy that up with blather about wanting to be "the guru of the gratuity" -- is full of both interesting anecdotes and useful information. I'm not sure if I'll remember all of the people I'm supposed to tip, and how much to give them, but that's not Dublanica's fault: he's giving us everything we need to know in Keep the Change, so it's up to us to use it.

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